Man of Action, Part 2

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Jesus didn’t come to into our world to just be a miracle-working rabbi. He came to be a Savior. He healed many people. He performed many miracles. But all those things simply supported His ministry of redemption. In fact, Jesus Himself told us why He came, and He did so by quoting from a Jewish prophet who lived centuries before:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19 TNIV)

The preaching of the Gospel – the good news – was why Jesus came. Everything else He did was window dressing, drawing attention to that good news. And this good news proved to be the ultimate blessing to all who heard and received it. Healings and miracles were wonderful. But it was the Gospel of Jesus Christ that changed lives. As it does today.

As our Lord traveled and ministered, He showed Himself to be much more than just an itinerant teacher. The way He spoke, the things He said, and His whole attitude toward His surroundings showed that Jesus was a man of authority.

A quick comparison between chapters 1 and 2 of Mark’s Gospel is very revealing. Chapter 1 is all about the glory of the Son of God, while chapter 2 seems to be about man’s opposition to Him. This shouldn’t be surprising. Man always bristles at the authority of Jesus Christ. Mark’s Gospel is very big on showing the conflict the rages between Jesus and man. And why wouldn’t there be conflict? Jesus went around preaching love. They were preaching legalism. Jesus preached freedom and liberty, His opponents preached about binding traditions. He taught about our inner attitude, they were all about outward acts. Jesus had the prestige they craved.

Authority over sin and disease, Mark 2:1 – 12

Yes, He had oodles of authority, but not a lot of success preaching in Nazareth. So Jesus moved on to Capernaum. This was actually a good idea; Capernaum was much larger than Nazareth. It was an important city for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which was the vast number of people that could be reached with the good news.

Apparently Peter’s house became Jesus’ home base. While He was preaching there, four men brought their friend, who was paralyzed.

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. (Mark 2:4 TNIV)

It wasn’t Jesus’ sermon these four friends were interested in. They desperately wanted their friend healed. How desperate where they? These amazing friends actually deconstructed Peter’s roof so they could lower their friend down into the room Jesus was in! There’s no denying the courage and resourcefulness of these friends; we’d be lucky to such friends! But not only that, these men had faith in Jesus – faith in what He could do.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5 TNIV)

Those first five words of Mark 2:5 are not insignificant. The faith of the four friends was self-evident; it could be seen. Their faith was proved by their works. And their faith drew Jesus’ attention to the paralyzed man. Andrew Murray, who was no stranger to faith, made this observation, which I think is applicable to these for gentlemen:

Faith expects from God what is beyond expectation.

Did sin cause the man to be paralyzed? Some scholars think so. Other’s don’t. They point to the state of the man’s heart. While his body was paralyzed, his heart was sinful, as all hearts are. Jesus went right to the man’s greatest need: salvation from sin.

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6, 7 TNIV)

There’s the first conflict caused by Jesus’ authority over sin. These guys were “teachers of the law,” but they were simply laymen who had day jobs. They were the grammatical nitpickers of their day. It was their duty to their religion to make meticulous copies of the Scriptures. They were fanatics about the purity of language and words as they related to their religion. No wonder Jesus’ words offended them. To them, Jesus was all wrong. Only God could forgive sins. They weren’t wrong about this; that’s what the Scriptures said. But they were missing the point! They didn’t make the connection between Jesus’ words and His actions. So He helped them out:

Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (Mark 2:9 TNIV)

Aside from the fact that it must surely have freaked them out that He was able to read their minds, this was a clever statement and makes a salient point. Both statements are equally profound and both statements require an act of omnipotent, divine power. But to drive home His point, and to demonstrate His ultimate authority over both sin and sickness, our Lord issues a command to the paralyzed man: get up and go home. The man did just that. His quick obedience to the Words of Jesus proved that He, Jesus, had a special authority. Here was a humble but glorious Man who was able to forgive sins and heal a body at the same time. This display of divine authority not only directly effected the paralyzed man who was healed and started walking, but indirectly effected everybody gathered at Peter’s house to hear Jesus speak:

This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12 TNIV)

This paralyzed man was fortunate indeed. He had four friends who went to the extreme limit to get him close to Jesus. But he had fifth friend this day, Jesus. His words and His actions not only changed his life forever, but also served to introduce this lost soul to God. Abraham Kuyper notes:

He is your friend who pushes you nearer to God.

Indeed.

Authority over religious tradition, Mark 2:18 – 28

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (Mark 2:18 TNIV)

God’s law suggested only one fast a year, on the Day of Atonement. Over the course of time, God’s very simple law got more and more complicated as man added more and more stipulations on top of it. During the time of Jesus, really pious, serious Jews fasted two days a week, and apparently some, if not all, of John the Baptist’s followers, like the Pharisees, were doing that. Funny thing was, though, none of Jesus’ followers were. This bothered those who were fasting. They were grouchy, anyway, being hungry from fasting. They nitpicked both the followers of Jesus and Jesus Himself. Why weren’t they fasting too? That’s what religion does, by the way. It pits people against people. In truth, religion has little to do with God at all. It has to do with people and what they think God wants of them. Of course, religious people rarely get it right. They mistake their religious customs or traditions with faith. And that’s what was happening here. Actually, there were two practices that the critics of Jesus took issue with: fasting and Sabbath observances.

In answer to the question of fasting, Jesus indicated that fasting was something done in connection with times of mourning and grief, like funerals, but it certainly wasn’t something you’d do at a wedding. Jesus likened Himself to the bridegroom and His followers as wedding guests. It would be ridiculous for them to fast. Really what Jesus did here was clever; He put forth the (for that time) revolutionary idea that circumstances, and not tradition, should dictate when a person fasts.

To help the religious dullards get the point, our Lord told two short parables:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If they do, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:21, 22 TNIV)

In the first parable, the unshrunk cloth of the New Covenant cannot be patched onto the worn out garment of Judaism. And in the second, the covenant wine cannot be held in the stiff, old wineskin of Judaism. Fresh wine needs to be poured into new, unused wineskins because they are flexible enough to expand without bursting.

But really, Jesus isn’t teaching us about the fine points of vintnery. His point is a simple one: His message – the Good News – called for a drastic change, and only those who were flexible enough to hear the truth and receive it could make the transition. Religious tradition, like any tradition, has its place, but also its time. There comes a time when ending a tradition or changing it to move forward under God’s guidance is the right thing to do.

In regards to the other conflict over the Sabbath, Jesus offers no excuse for the fact His disciples were not observing it in the traditional way. As far as the Pharisees were concerned absolutely no work could be done on the Sabbath. The religious leaders of the day had made a meticulous list of activities that constituted “working,” and those were forbidden. Merely plucking head of grain was considered to be the work of “reaping,” something against the religious laws of Judaism. And here were the followers of Jesus doing just that!

In truth, though, the Pharisees, over successive generations, had successfully heaped piles and piles of irrelevant, man-made laws on top of God’s law, effectively burying it. God’s Sabbath law in no way forbade with the disciples were doing. But God’s common sense law had become invisible.

Jesus’ answer:

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:25 – 27 TNIV)

Jesus didn’t deny the charge of Pharisees, instead He actually defended what the disciples were doing by pointing to a precedent set by none other than the revered King David! In this incident (see 1 Samuel 21:1 – 6 for all the gory details) there was no question that David broke the Sabbath law, no question at all. But, in David’s case, it was justified. Under the Mosaic Law, the “letter of the law” wasn’t the thing. It was supposed to be the “spirit of the law.” If the “letter of the law” caused hardship, allowances could be made. The Pharisees had forgotten that bit.

They faced a real dilemma, for if the Pharisees condemned the disciples, then they must also condemn King David, who broke the ceremonial law when it was necessary for him to do so.

Jesus’ reasoning was nothing less that brilliant. The immediate and important needs of man have priority over the Sabbath law of complete rest. What Jesus did was profound. With one sentence, He restored the Sabbath to its original place of serving man, rather than imposing a burden on them.  And when Jesus declared that He was Lord of the Sabbath, He again spoke a profound truth, which John MacArthur explains:

Jesus proclaimed, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” It was an offer of an abiding Sabbath rest. He was the fulfillment of all the Sabbath’s pictures. And we don’t need the picture if we have the reality. Sabbaths are no more a part of the New Covenant than animal sacrifices are.

Of course he’s right about that. Religious people, like the Pharisees, often obsess over things that have very little to do with God but everything to do with man. You’d be surprised at the number of things you do in church that are just traditions and not Biblical in any way. And it’s odd that practitioners of religion are so offended by those of us who practice the faith instead of minding their traditions. It’s like they’ve forgotten this:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 TNIV)

It’s Jesus, not man, who is the final authority.

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